He meant the interview. The subject could have been his team's play.
Piazza on the Move
Mets Get Instant Credibility
As Todd Hundley strolled down the hallway to the Mets' clubhouse in Shea Stadium two hours before last Saturday's game against the Brewers, he found himself in the path of a rabid pack of reporters. Hundley, the Mets' All-Star catcher who has not played since having reconstructive surgery on his right elbow last September, had resumed taking batting practice just a few days earlier, but the horde had no interest in asking him how it felt to swing a bat again. No, the scribes were on their way to meet the team's new catcher, and they nearly trampled the old one to get there.
Despite having vowed earlier in the week—to the media, to fans and to Hundley himself—that the Mets were not trying to acquire Mike Piazza from the Marlins, general manager Steve Phillips last Friday traded minor league outfielder Preston Wilson, Double A lefthander Ed Yarnall and Class A lefthander Geoff Goetz to Florida for the slugging backstop. Phillips had initially been adamant that there would be no deal for Piazza because, he said, the team already had a catcher—albeit one who won't return to the lineup until sometime after the All-Star break.
Ultimately the Mets were willing to put themselves in the awkward position of possibly having to squeeze out one of their best and most popular players because they were suffering at the gate and needed an extra bat to make a run for the National League wild-card spot. An indication of how bad things were in Queens came last week, when a scheduling fluke had both the Mets and the Yankees at home from Tuesday through Thursday. While the front-running Bombers were packing 'em in against the Orioles (32,783 per night), the second-place Mets were hosting the Reds in front of a quiet gathering of family and friends (14,053 per night).
However, Piazza's arrival at Shea last Friday attracted 32,908 fans, including some 13,000 who bought their tickets after the trade was announced, and the following afternoon the Mets had their first sellout since Opening Day 1993. (According to manager Bobby Valentine, the electricity in the stands carried over into the dugout, as even stoic first baseman John Olerud got into the act during last Saturday's 3-0 win over the Brewers. "In the fifth inning, he said, 'Let's go guys,' " Valentine deadpanned.)
These may be exciting times for the Mets, but they face the same dilemma the Dodgers did before they traded Piazza to the Marlins on May 14: Can they sign Piazza, who becomes a free agent after this season and is seeking a seven-year contract in the neighborhood of $105 million? If they do, they must either trade Hundley or find a way to get both men in the lineup every day. If they don't, then Hundley gets his old job back when he's healthy, and New York is out at least two prospects who could be in the majors next spring.
Phillips says that even if he knew that Piazza wouldn't eventually re-sign with the Mets, he still would have made the deal. "The worst-case scenario is that we don't sign him, but we get two [compensatory] draft picks for him, and we will have had the benefit of his services for 120 games this season," says Phillips. "If that's the case, I still think it's a deal worth making."
So why was Phillips so reluctant to pull the trigger at first? He has a history of almost making big deals—his near acquisitions last off-season included Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield and Pedro Martinez—but in the case of Piazza, Mets ownership gave him a not-so-subtle nudge. On Thursday co-owner Fred Wilpon was on a New York sports talk radio program and said his team had at least four offers on the table that would land them a star, signaling Piazza-hungry fans that if they didn't get their man, it was Phillips's fault, not his.
Whether or not Phillips's hand was forced, the fact that he finally pulled off a big trade was not lost on the fans, one of whom paraded around Shea last Saturday carrying a sign that read, GIVE THE METS A HAND FOR A GUTSY MOVE. That show of intestinal fortitude has given this punch-less team a much-needed bat, but it also has guaranteed that the summer will be filled with much angst in the media: about re-signing Piazza, about where to play Hundley when he comes off the DL and about who is running the ship—the G.M. or the owners.